SALT LAKE CITY — I couldn’t help but snap. It was infectious. The opening notes to The Addams Family theme song filled the Capitol Theatre and 1400+ patrons from all ages (and I mean ALL ages) snapped in unison on all the right counts.
It seems America has a history with the Addams. Whether you were brought up on the Saturday morning cartoon, or stood in line to catch the latest sighting of Christopher Lloyd as Cousin Fester in the movie theaters. Perhaps you’re a bit more senior and saw the original comics in the Sunday paper, or a newbie that only knows the tune because it was played on the organ at the local baseball game.
What started out as a 1938 single-pane comic in The New Yorker is now on stage as a new musical comedy. The story itself is weak, the music is catchy though forgettable, but the characters are just as iconic as ever and this cast makes a point to show that the Addams Family fits into American musical theatre just fine.
The show opens with the Addams gathered in the graveyard to dance on their ancestors’ graves. A once-yearly tradition whose musical number serves to reintroduce the Addams as a delightfully oddball family that revels in the morbid, and it also introduces an ensemble of ancestors forced to sing backup for the rest of the show “until love triumphs.” Yes, it’s a weak cheesy plot point, but having a few more voices onstage to fill out the sound later on in the show was certainly needed.
The song is led by Gomez Addams and each of the family take a moment to shine. Sergio Trujillo’s choreography was electric. It reanimated corpses in the opening number and kept them moving on to the end. Particularly impressive is how Trujillo features not-so-young Wednesday Addams in the opening steps to call out to patrons saying, “watch this one, she’s going to be important later on,” and she certainly is. The main plot for the musical has Wednesday now grown up and bringing a boy home to introduce to the family. Dad gets on board pretty quickly, but is asked to keep it a secret so Wednesday can tell Mom (Morticia) at the right time.
Yes, the plot is thin, and the Act One Finale entitled “Full Disclosure” is laughably sad. After dinner all the guests participate in a game where they share a secret. Again, it seems like a weak choice to simply advance the plot. There are no high stakes in this show, not even a close skirt with death (which isn’t too much to ask from this creepy and kooky lot), but the show is fun. The characters, their comedy, and a little theatre magic forced this cranky reviewer to throw out the dismal plot and enjoy the show.
Blake Hammond as Uncle Fester lights up the stage (even when not sporting a bulb in his mouth). He’s eerily charming and pushes the story forward. Particularly absurd yet delightful is his love song to the moon, where he floats above the stage and dances with his healthfully-distanced sweetheart. Cortney Wolfson delivers on the dead comic timing expected in Wednesday Addams. There’s a scene where she tortures her younger brother Pugsley on a “the rack” while singing about these strange new nice and loving feelings pulling her into a new direction. Her energy and versatility in these two new sides of her personality was as fun to watch as her brother being stretched in the background.
Patrick D. Kennedy as Pugsley Addams played a bit younger than I expected. His sweetness and whininess played a good contrast to his love for being tortured and blowing things up. In a way it bridged that gap between the Addams and their more conservative audience, but I will confess the whines grated a bit (though perhaps I was meant to be tortured a tad as well).
Sara Gettelfinger’s performance as Morticia echoed a little Anjelica Huston, though Gettelfinger stood on her own. Morticia felt a bit older than expected and much more motherly than the statuary seductress I anticipated. Gettelfinger was a force on the stage to be reckoned with (as one expects any strong mother figure to be), but her musical numbers lacked weight. Her light “Just Around the Corner” in Act Two felt awkward and placed into the show because book writers Marshall Brickman and Andrew Lippa felt the audience needed a peppy, light hearted dance number to get us going after the intermission. Though no fault of Gettelfinger’s, it likely was haphazardly included as an opportunity to try and use the ghostly ancestors in a musical number and justify their appearance on the stage.
Douglas Sills as Gomez Adams was phenomenal. He was charming, energetic and couldn’t have had better comedic timing. His role really is the backbone of this production and he carries it off in style. After all, the plot hangs upon the fact that he is keeping the news of his daughter’s engagement from his wife, and then the aftermath of that secret coming out. Had Sills not been so entertaining I don’t know if I could have forgiven the script. Utah audiences familiar with Pickleville’s Juanito Bandito will hear a familiar accent in Gomez (though the similarity is coincidence, I’m sure).
Directors Phelim McDermott and Julian Crouch use of the double grand curtains at the front of the stage was genius. A contour, Austrian curtain fell from above, while the other traveler split down the middle. They were used to frame small portions of the set to focus in on a bit of action, while the hidden portions changed for the next scene. It gave a real vaudeville feel to the show by framing the performers so closely. It’s when the show embraces that vaudeville theme that it truly finds its strength. No longer was I frustrated at the weak plot, instead I started asking myself the question, “If the Addams Family were to put together a show wouldn’t this be exactly how it would go?” It subtly reminded me of traveling church roadshows, or the fundraising productions put on by nuns to bury their frozen sisters (insert tired bah-dum ching rimshot).
Forgive Morticia’s dress cut down to Venezuela, and young Pugsley smoking habits. Embrace Uncle Fester’s lunar love affair, and know that Wednesday is just as good with a crossbow as ever, despite now falling in love. When you’re with the Addams there is always a bit of mystery and general ookiness lurking around the house. With cameo appearances by Thing, Cousin Itt and a little solo by Lurch, The Addams Family belongs on the stage, and your family belongs in the audience.